After a widely-publicized, disappointing initial public offering, Facebook may be a bit more sensitive about its intellectual property and protecting the company’s value.
While unquestionably the top dog in social media, the company faces increased competition in an expanding social media market. To dethrone Facebook, however, an emerging social media company must convince loyal Facebook users to either split time between two social media sites or to make a complete switch from Facebook. Most users are reluctant to even flirt with change because of the multitude of photos and data stored over their years on Facebook, as well as the base of “friends” accumulated. It would simply require too much time and effort to rebuild their social media presence on a new site.
Recognizing a market for those who would like to switch to a Facebook-esque social media site, like Google+, third-parties create apps and tools to make the transition easier for Facebook users. These tools perform what is known as “data extraction.” These social extraction tools export information (e-mail addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, and photos) from the Facebook site, allowing the user to carry the years of data amassed on Facebook to another site. Depending on the particular extraction tool, it will extract different types of information, but all the extraction tools are geared towards the same purpose: untethering the user from their exclusive reliance on Facebook.
The causes of action Facebook has brought in previous cases include common law trespass to chattels; tortious interference with contractual relations; claims under the CAN SPAM Act; and plain old copyright infringement. The company has had varied success with these claims.
As market competition in the social media field grows, lawyers can expect more litigation involving the legality of extraction tools and efforts to block the use of such tools. At the heart of this issue are the questions who owns the data generated and uploaded by Facebook users to the site and can this data properly be moved from one site to another. These questions may have further legal implications.
For more on this emerging topic, check out the ABA’s live webinar “Friends or Frenemies? The Increasingly Important Legal Battle Over Social Data Extraction Tools.” Also, take a look at Jonathan H. Blavin’s extensive article of the same name tracking the litigation surrounding this topic.